PHOENIX — The next time you spot a plane flying overhead, leaders of Arizona's aviation industry want you to see dollar signs.
Aviation is worth nearly $40 billion a year to the state's economy, industry representatives told lawmakers Wednesday during Arizona Aviation Day at the state Capitol.
"Aviation touches so many different aspects of our lives," said Rep. Jerry Weiers, R- Glendale, who helped organize the event. "If lawmakers don't understand how important it is, they might make laws, or even prevent laws, that would be harmful to aviation."
Groups led by the Arizona Airports Association brought along a hot air balloon, a hang glider and two helicopters to call attention to an industry they say supports more than 400,000 jobs.
Airports, aircraft manufacturing, commercial flights, hang gliding and everything else related to aviation contributed $38.7 billion to the state's economy in 2007, the groups said.
Gov. Janet Napolitano issued a proclamation declaring Arizona Aviation Day, noting that over the next 20 years the number of passengers using the state's airports could double, as could the cargo traveling through major airports.
Serving as a guest speaker, Lee McPheters, an economics professor and senior associate dean of Arizona State University's W.P. Carey School of Business, said aviation has helped build modern Arizona.
"Without aviation, Arizona never would have developed the way it has," McPheters said. "In 1960, the population took off, and the state started to see significant economic growth for two reasons: the arrival of air-conditioning and jet aircraft."
With Arizona's population projected to double in the next 30 years, McPheters said Arizona's aviation industry needs to keep pace.
"We need to expand and improve what we have or else we won't keep up," he said.
Tucson International Airport completed a $65 million terminal expansion in 2005.
The airport also has upgraded its concourses and plans to expand runways to meet future demand, which is expected nearly to double from 4.4 million passengers in 2007 to 7.5 million in 20 to 25 years.
Lynn Kusy, executive director of Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, said it's important for lawmakers to keep aviation in mind as they make policy.
"There are a lot of aviation issues that the state is dealing with, and this event is just so the legislators understand the economic impact," Kusy said.
"We need to expand and improve what we have
or else we won't keep up."
Lee McPheters senior associate dean of Arizona State University's W.P. Carey School of Business